Winter can be a fun season, but for those who work or live on a farm, winter requires a lot of preparation. As the mild autumn weather fades, wise farmers have already accumulated the resources needed to keep everything running smoothly. Snow, frost and frigid temperatures are known to make working the land more difficult, so every farmer must be prepared.
Agronomist Lerato Botha shares her expertise on why it is important to prepare your land for the winter and gives some advice to crop farmers on how to deal with the cold season.
According to Botha, she has experience in a colder region. “Our temperatures extend from minus seven degrees to minus 10 degrees in winter. This affects crop growth, and it is very important if you will be planting vegetables in winter.”
The colder regions in South Africa are Free State, southern Gauteng, and the Western Cape.
Botha advises that if you plan on planting during the winter, choose a crop that has a high cold tolerance. There are not many crops that can take the cold and not many crops recover after being affected by frost. So, it is important to understand the type of crop that will be planted.
What types of crops can be planted?
For colder months, brassicas are the crop of choice:
- Brussel sprouts
There are also green bean varieties that can be grown in winter:
Use of cover crops
“Usually, farmers in the colder regions would plant the crop cover. A crop cover is a variety of nutrient intense crops that will help rehabilitate your soil in the winter. These crops don’t usually get harvested, usually, they will be ploughed back into the soil and this is what we would call green manure. We use this time – which is about three to four months of winter – to prepare your soil for the coming seasons,” she says.
A lot of farmers follow the following techniques for winter:
- Use the time to rehabilitate the soil.
- Speak to seeds suppliers to ask what the best mixture is for crop cover.
- Spread those seeds across your field and plant them densely.
- Water plants often.
- Plough it closer to planting time.
However, farmers in the warmer regions are lucky enough to still grow and harvest crops during winter.
The warmer regions are Central Karoo, nothern Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and Northern Cape.
Botha says, “You would then find that farmers would grow a crop that replenishes the soil. Something like beans, most bean varieties replenish the soil. They put nutrients back into the soil so you will come and find that a lot of farmers would plants beans because it is very stable on the market with regards to price.”
As much as you are planting something, there is an opportunity to harvest as well and get some money back from the winter planting.
Irrigation and water systems
What a farmer needs to take into consideration is the frequency of irrigation and the time that they irrigate during winter.
“You need to ensure that the crop has defrosted in the morning. Let’s say you are in a region where you are frost prone. You will then wait for the morning dew to dry out before you irrigate,” she explains.
This is done because farmers do not want to add water to a cold plant. It will take longer to defrost and the growth for that day will not be much. Therefore, it is important to wait for the dew to dry up. Once that has happened, at around 10:00-11:00 the irrigation process can start.
Botha advises against irrigating too late in the day.
“If you irrigate later, the water turns to frost in the evening. You want to avoid your plant from getting frozen the night. Try and irrigate midday latest; you can push for 14:00 or 15:00 in the afternoon,” she says.
The effect of nitrogen
Nitrogen promotes root development which in turn promotes plant growth, Botha explains.
“By choosing a cold[-tolerant crop] variety it means that you will have a good quality product in winter. But it does not mean that it will grow quicker, but whatever you will harvest will be of good quality,” she says.
If you do not plant a cold-tolerant variety, what you will get is stunted growth. Crops will grow to a certain point and will not grow any further. Crops that do develop fruit, will therefore be of poor quality and smaller in size.
Top tips for farmers to prepare land successfully for winter:
- Thoroughly plan what you will be planting (if it needs to be harvested etc.).
- Take advantage of your late summer and early autumn season for sunlight.
- Understand the temperature in your region.
- Understand your market and the crop that can be harvested during winter.
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